Past, present and future of UNC lacrosse's Kelly family converge at Final Four

The family reunions happen every spring day inside North Carolina's Loudermilk Center for Excellence. Before he sees cousin Patrick at practice, or before he catches up with cousin Timmy in the locker room, Stephen Kelly will walk past uncles David and Bryan. He'll think to himself: They look pretty good.

They don't acknowledge him, of course, and they never do, because they are faces on photographs in the Tar Heels men's lacrosse offices, unavoidable reminders of the program's old glory, fixed links to a family's dynamic heritage.


The past, present and future of Kelly lacrosse will mix this weekend in Philadelphia.

Bryan Kelly, the boys coach at Calvert Hall, will be honored Monday at Lincoln Financial Field along with his North Carolina teammates for their 1991 NCAA Division I title. The Tar Heels, led by their trio of Kellys, would join him on the field with a win Saturday over No. 7 seed Loyola Maryland in the Final Four. And in the stands, taking it all in, will be too many Kelly family members to count.


"With the Kellys, you know the foundation has been laid in their house," said Joe Breschi, a Baltimore native and North Carolina's coach since 2008. "And to know that, 'Hey, there's another Kelly out there,' it's almost like you can't go wrong by recruiting one."

Breschi's playing career at North Carolina began in 1986 not long after a Kelly helped recruit him. A standout at Loyola Blakefield, Breschi took an official visit to Chapel Hill during his recruitment. His host: David Kelly, then a freshman and former opponent at Calvert Hall.

The next year, with the Tar Heels coming off their third national title in six seasons, Bryan Kelly checked out North Carolina. This time, Breschi showed the Cardinals star around.

Kelly, a defenseman, "loved" Maryland coach Dick Edell but not the idea of shadowing his brother, an attackman, in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The family ties were too strong. Better to join him than face him.

"And so I went there … and ironically, I covered him every day in practice," Bryan Kelly said of David. "I didn't think that far in advance."

In 1991, with Breschi a first-year assistant coach and Bryan Kelly a senior All-America honorable mention, the Tar Heels won their fourth NCAA championship. The program returned to Championship Weekend each of the next two seasons, losing in the 1993 final.

By then, the two had left Carolina, Kelly moving on to the business world, Breschi taking a job as the top assistant at Brown. But years later, a tragedy strengthened their bond.

In 2004, Joe's 3-year-old son, Michael Breschi, was hit by an SUV in the parking lot of his preschool in Clintonville, Ohio, when Joe was coach at Ohio State. He was killed in the accident. For the next two years, Bryan Kelly and Breschi would talk every week.

"If you love somebody and you care about somebody, you're going to do whatever you can to help them through the process," Kelly said.

Because of their bond, the next generation of Kellys, all coached by Bryan at Calvert Hall, started to see in Breschi and North Carolina the virtues that had attracted their relatives. Faceoff specialist and 2010 Cardinals captain Frankie Kelly, the son of Frank, was the first of the new generation of Tar Heels.

His cousin Patrick, David's son and a senior midfielder with 25 goals this season, was next.

Stephen Kelly, a junior and starting faceoff specialist, as well as Frankie's brother, didn't much care for North Carolina lacrosse as a kid. There was little to get excited about; the Tar Heels' 1993 Final Four appearance was their last before this year's. But he had played with Patrick since he was 5, and his brother loved his four years in the program, and other top recruits he knew were committing to North Carolina.


"Just seeing how the culture really changed there," Stephen said, "I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of."

Timmy Kelly, Patrick's brother and a midfielder who has started more games (four) this year than all but one Tar Heels freshman, at first didn't want to come to North Carolina. There were too many Kellys there. It was a legacy in which he had little interest.

He looked far and near for alternatives but knew he would end up at North Carolina. "All right," he recalls telling Breschi, "I can't really resist."

After the spring semester ended this month, Patrick and Stephen had two openings in their four-bedroom apartment. In moved Timmy and his roommate, Charles, a freshman and reserve faceoff specialist from Pennsylvania.

Charles' last name is Kelly, too. Of course his last name is Kelly. "We call him Uncle Chuck," Patrick said, laughing, "because he's kind of the uncle that's not really related."

Patrick, Stephen and Timmy wouldn't be the first Kellys to reach the sport's summit, they well know, nor will they likely be the last with that chance. Bryan Kelly's son Jacob, a sophomore attackman at Calvert Hall, committed to the Tar Heels two years ago. His younger brother Daniel, an eighth-grader, already has visited North Carolina.

College coaches joke with Bryan Kelly all the time: Why even bother targeting a Kelly kid? One told him, "I'll never recruit a Kelly again. I'm done." Whether that was supposed to be a joke, Bryan wasn't sure.

"It's hard, too, because I hate it when they say that, because everybody's different," Bryan Kelly said. But, he added, "If I was in their shoes, I'd be thinking the same thing, probably."


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